Ed Asner: Actor, activist and Grouchy Historian

Actor Ed Asner is a grouchy old man (just ask him).

Thirty-five years after his popular TV drama “Lou Grant” was canceled as Asner spoke out against U.S. policy in Central America, Asner is still a vocal and fiery activist working to alleviate the wrongs he sees in society.

On Oct. 14, Asner was in Tucson to emcee a Humane Borders dinner to recognize volunteers and raise funds for the nonprofit, charitable organization that works to save the lives of illegal immigrants. Humane Borders works to prevent death in the desert by establishing and maintaining a legally permitted system of water stations, as well as working in partnership with the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office to map the deaths that do occur. You can read about the organization’s work on our website at azjewishlife.com/gift-time-saves-lives.

When he turns 88 on Nov. 15, Asner will be in the middle of a 13-day road trip performing his one-man show, “A Man and His Prostate,” and speaking about his new book. The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs which was released in October. Both projects are collaborative efforts with Ed Weinberger, with whom he last worked when Weinberger produced and wrote for the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” where the character of Lou Grant was created.

“It is intimidating me a great deal,” says Asner, noting the trip includes a lot of travel, performing and speaking engagements. “I’m getting too old for that crap. … I’m lucky to be able to sit and digest my paper thoroughly.”

Yet he’s still acting on stage and television, and performing as a voice actor. The seven-time Emmy winner has guest-starred on several TV shows in the past decade including “CSI: NY” and “The Good Wife.” In 2009 he starred as the voice of Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s animated film “Up,” which he says was mislabeled a kids’ film. “I call it a double love story,” he says. He adds that the old man’s rediscovery of love and adventure after the death of his beloved wife, Ellie, is a stirring reminder for seniors that life can find new highs.

Asner had reconnected with Weinberger in 2015 to star in the play based on Weinberger’s seven-day stay in an Italian hospital with a prostate condition. Though 90% of men older than 85 have prostate problems, Asner says his prostate is just fine. “Every 16 minutes a man dies in this country from prostate cancer,” he says. “The show has a lot of laughs and important information one should know about prostate cancer.”

The show hadn’t been on the road for long when the 2016 presidential campaign season took an ostentatious turn. (Throughout the interview for this piece, Asner never mentioned President Trump’s name; he referred only to this administration or this president.)

“The call to truth and honesty and the need to improve the state of our deteriorating democracy necessitated our collaboration,” says Asner of the pair’s new book.

Asner says he hopes The Grouchy Historian will make people “think very carefully when someone claims to know what the framers of the Constitution had done.” Promotional materials for the book say, “There’s no way that two hundred-plus years later, the right-wing ideologues know how to interpret the Constitution. On their way home from Philadelphia, the people who wrote it couldn’t agree on what it meant.”

Asner adds, “I encourage everyone to see the Constitution as a living, breathing document to be played with and managed to increase the justice we live by.”

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